Veep started out as a show about impotence. Named after a reputable bureau for the ceremony rather than the background, the show trapped a knowledgeable and astute politician in a golden cage and let the comedy unfold from there. An entire episode was based on Vice President Selina Meyer’s choice of frozen yogurt flavor; The emblematic blasphemy of creator Armando Iannucci, refined on his previous sitcom The thickness of it, has become a way for Selina to vent her pent-up frustrations against her subordinates. (“It’s like using a croissant as a fucking dildo… it doesn’t do the job, and it makes a fucking mess!”) In creating Selina, Iannucci’s writing and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ comedic talents are became the successful partnership that the fictitious president of Selina the ticket was not.
Over seven seasons, a real change of regime, and a record number of Emmys for Louis-Dreyfus, Veep evolved into something different – harder, bigger and darker. Sunday’s eponymous series finale completed Selina’s journey from a frustrated, albeit self-interested idealist to a freak of American politics’ own making, not so much shattered as simply shattered. The woman who once betrayed her pro-choice beliefs with a senseless and absurd statement no longer has any beliefs. In just 45 minutes, Selina sold her own daughter by promising to overthrow same-sex marriage for a key endorsement, her devoted mate Gary by using her as a fall man for a scandal, and her country by putting Jonah Ryan in the lead for the Presidency . The new and the old Selina can be separated by a simple matter of degree, but they could and felt like separate entities.
These changes in VeepThe central character of came with changes in the show itself. There is a chicken-and-egg relationship between Selina and her series. As Selina hardens to become a more bitter, caustic version of herself, Veep follow suit by leaning into the vitriol? Or have the writers, perhaps swayed by the ever darker view of politics provided by current events, shaped the character by channeling their own state of mind?
Whatever the answer (unknowable), the results were apparent. They also had a more tangible cause than the times: between seasons 4 and 5, Iannucci left as showrunner, replaced by David Mandel of Louis-Dreyfus alma mater Seinfeld. Late period Veep has a distinct set of trademarks that separates it from its predecessor, so much so that the two sometimes felt like different, if related, shows. Not all of these brands correspond directly to fluctuations in quality. More often than not, they spoke of the challenges of moving a show forward while retaining its essential qualities, and of preserving these qualities when so long. Veepthe source material of had changed.
Veep begins and ends with Selina, and her fundamental arc could be traced from Selina’s utter lack of power to her possession of a skilled but nonetheless real form. First, at the end of Season 3, she won the presidency, briefly and by default when the president stepped down within months of her tenure. Then, at the end of Season 5, she lost him in an objective defeat that ironically brought her back to the center of her autonomous universe, a bubble populated by sycophants without the daily realities of ruling to pierce it. As you might expect, achieving diminished form of her ultimate goal only made Selina more venal, demanding, and oblivious. Earlier this season, Selina urged her assistant Amy to visit her father, who had just suffered a stroke; the gesture may have been spurious, although Selina at least felt the need to keep up appearances in doing so. At the end of the season, Selina responded to the news of Amy’s pregnancy by scoffing, “I should have got you treated years ago.” The closer you get to real authority, the more you cling to what they already have.
Part of this development has helped Veep shed light on an institution that has never seemed darker. Veep would never fall back into holiness, but the series wisely transformed its group of incompetent and benevolent minions into a group of actively malicious people. Selina’s blunders consisted of offending minor European countries and spending too much money on cash registers; in the end, it was literal war crimes, as Selina traded Tibet and faced backlash for a drone strike. What was once a story about the emptiness and futility of politics has turned into a story about the frightening flippancy with which politicians would ruin lives for personal gain – and also, cock jokes.
VeepMore overt attempts to echo the news were less successful. Many of the subplots from the past season have been ripped straight from the headlines: Selina openly courting electoral interference from a foreign power; a scandal involving an eponymous association; Jonas blatantly alarmist Trumpian against Muslims and math teachers. Arriving like they did in VeepIn the surreal political world of, where Congress breaks ties in elections and where members of the same party campaign against same-sex marriage and for green jobs, such explicit links to reality seem shocking. In a show that previously skewered DC’s cowardly cruelty without the crutch of verisimilitude, they were also free.
A riskier delay-Veep touchstone was the apparent choice to value comedic potential rather than internal logic. Many players in VeepThe final phase of would be unrecognizable to themselves. Hugh Laurie’s Tom James went from Selina’s balanced foil to his backbiting counterpart, while Amy became full-fledged Kellyanne Conway in the span of a few episodes. As with Selina, some of these transitions – like Jonah learning to harness his toxic masculinity and turn it into an electoral advantage – could be explained as a lesson in the corrupting influence of politics. At just seven episodes, the abbreviation of Veepthe last season of also positively encouraged some Thrones-ian plot compression. Jonah’s wife-slash-sister developed an addiction to pills and entered rehab within minutes; the main story rushed from Selina’s announcement to the Iowa caucus in just a week in real time.
Other twists looked like forced configurations of (admittedly excellent) hitting lines. To spend her final episodes running for president, Selina had to become a credible candidate for national office, to hell with past scandals and disgraces. Small aesthetic choices such as the removal of fictitious news items from the opening titles came to mean something more: the less Selina was precisely in her political universe, the more writers with a poetic license could take with her trajectory. Whether the compromise was worth it ultimately depended on the viewer. Yes, Selina’s return has strained gullibility, but it was undeniably better for the show than wallowing in a post-presidency without a leadership.
The contrast between the new and the old Veep was accentuated by a distinct change of pace. Mandel’s influence could be felt not only at the structural level, but in the line-by-line rhythms, which became much denser with single lines than Iannucci’s relatively grounded scripts. Reflective Veepfrom the escalation of pork roasts and political dinners to casual assassinations, actual jokes have become both more frequent and, often, more on the nose, like when Amy proposed a postmortem campaign at the premiere of season 7, only for Selina to embody every flaw as Amy listed them. As his pace quickened, Veep also lost some of the slower-burning gags that marked its previous entries. Last day Veep Selina would never clumsily juggle a angry Birds clock for minutes, letting the laughter grow slowly instead of delivering it by brute force.
As much as Veep has changed over the years, however, its main message has remained consistent. Selina’s foundation was never ideology, but the unwavering belief that she deserved to be president and that any failure to achieve her goals necessarily fell to someone else. The finale’s most haunting moment comes after Selina has already sold her soul several times. From her new perch of power, she echoes one of the the most emblematic lines: “The level of incompetence in this office is st…” She pauses, realizing that the office she is referring to is the oval she has spent decades fighting her way through. In his lucid portrayal of an unconscious elite, Veep maintained the kind of principled position Selina Meyer never could.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The ring.